Syria: Broke, Beaten And Bewildered

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June 11, 2020: Economic hardship has become a major problem for the Assad government. In 2019 Iranian economic problems led to a sharp (over 50 percent) cut in cash aid to Syria. This year the sanctions on Syria have multiplied and been enforced more effectively. It is harder for the average Syrian to buy consumer goods and basic items. This can be seen in the exchange rate; how many Syrian pounds it takes to buy a dollar. In 2011 it was 47 pounds, now it is over 3,000. Dollars are needed to pay for imports and the dollar shortages for everyone, even the wealthiest, are a daily reminder that the war may be won but the peace and reconstruction that was to follow are not happening. Local officials throughout Syria are dealing with individual complaints of privation and, in some towns, there have been public demonstrations against the government's inability to turn battlefield victories into a better life for Syrians who supported the Assads.

Iran offers no prospects of immediate relief and is apparently relying on the American presidential elections in November to bring to power a more pro-Iran and anti-Israel government. Syria would prefer to make a separate peace with the Americans and the rest of the Arab world. Iran will not allow that and as long as Iran has over 50,000 mercenaries in Syria, a separate peace with the U.S. and Arab League is not going to happen.

Inside Iran, the clerical dictatorship is having similar economic problems and there is even more public outrage against the government. Many Syrians and Iranians would like to see an Iranian change of government before the end of 2020.

Syria is the costliest foreign adventure Iran has, even with the much reduced budget for such foreign wars. The Iranian clerics are still obsessed with attacking and destroying Israel. Most Iranians agree with the Arab world that is not likely to happen. For over 70 years most of the Moslem world has sought to destroy Israel and has nothing but a long list of military defeats and other failures to show for it. In fact, the current Iranian effort to gain control of the Moslem Holy Places Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, has more and more Arab states openly allying themselves with Israel.

The Iranian clerics, or at least their IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) bodyguards are still undertaking expensive efforts to attack Israel. In Syria, that means about 50,000 Iranian mercenaries are now wearing Syrian Army uniforms and moving into bases near the Israeli border. These “Syrian soldiers” are paid by Iran to take orders from Iran, despite the Syrian uniform. This is demoralizing for Syrian troops and the Syrian government. If these Iranian “Syrian soldiers” attack Israel, the Israelis will attack Syria, including pro-Assad cities that have so far avoided major airstrikes. This is what happens in Lebanon when Iran-backed Hezbollah goes to war with Israel.

In addition to all the heat the Assads take from Iran, since 2018 Russia and Turkey have complicated matters by pressuring Iran to get out of Syria. Russia points out that it has a treaty which legitimizes Russian forces in Syria. Iran does not have that and, when Russia calls for “all foreign troops” to leave Syria, it means only the Americans, Turks and Iranians. The Americans have no interest in a permanent presence as they just want to deal with some Islamic terrorists and then go. The U.S. is also there to protect its Syrian Kurd allies until Syria makes peace with the Kurds. The Syrian government is interested in this but Iran is not. The Turks do not want any long-term presence in Syria, they just want to eliminate Islamic terrorists threatening their border and pacify enough of northern Syria to resettle more than two million Syrian Sunni Arab refugees in their new Syrian “security zone” extending into Syria 30 kilometers from the Turkish border. This is not popular with the Assads because Sunni Arabs are the majority of Syrians and most of the refugees were Sunni Arab rebel supporters

Turkey does not want war with Israel yet portrays Israel as an “enemy of Islam.” Turkey would prefer that Iran do the same and go home. Many Iranians and Syrians openly agree with Russia and Turkey. The Iranian government responds with “Israeli airstrikes are killing people in Syria.” Syrians note that most of the dead are Iranians or mercenaries (Arabs and Afghans) on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian government deliberately keeps as few Iranians as possible in bases likely to be hit. Iranians getting killed in Syria, even if they are IRGC Iranians, is very unpopular back in Iran. Syrians just don’t like all these Syrians who are working for Iran or Turkey as mercenaries and getting killed by whoever.

The Assads would like the Iranian forces, most of them mercenaries, to leave but the Iranians refuse. Israel has told the Assads that if they stick with Iran they will be destroyed. The Assads realize that the Iranians are fanatics about destroying Israel and that the Israelis have demonstrated an ability to counter any move the Iranians make. Moreover, all the other Arab states consider the Assads traitors for aligning themselves with the Iranians, who are quite openly at war with Arab control of Arabia. Worse, no one has much sympathy for the Assads, who have very few good qualities. Despite this, the Assads apparently side with Russia and Israel rather than Iran. What this comes down to is the fact that Iran is a foreign (Indo-European, not Arab) power that wants to increase its direct control over Syria. Russia, Turkey, the U.S. and Israel do not.

Since 2012 Israel has carried out a growing number of air raids on Iranian targets in Syria. The targets are mostly Iranian weapons storage sites, bases and now missile assembly operations. Since 2012 there have been about 38 airstrikes a year but there have already at least that many so far in 2020. It’s not unusual for there to be four or more airstrikes a week. These air attacks use various types of smart bombs and guided missiles and rarely miss or are aborted.

The Syrians frequently claim to have intercepted Israeli air-launched, often from inside Lebanon or Israel, missiles but the reality is that few of the Israeli missiles fail to hit their targets. Commercial satellite photos are available to determine damage and there is always a lot of it. Iran and Syria complain that the formidable Russian air defense system in Syria is not used to stop the Israelis. The Russians don’t want a fight with the Israelis, if only because the Israelis might publically demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems. These systems are a major export item for Russia and the Israelis could reduce those export sales with demonstrations of how to get past the Russian air defenses.

June 9, 2020: In the north (Idlib province), for the first time since March there were Russian airstrikes, against fifteen different targets. In one of those airstrikes, a civilian was killed. There have been a lot fewer Russian and Syrian airstrikes since the covid19 virus showed up in March, along with a temporary ceasefire between Syrian troops, Islamic terrorist groups and Turks. What few airstrikes there were hit ISIL or similar targets outside the ceasefire area. The airstrikes today were in retaliation for a recent Islamic terrorist offensive against Syrian troops. The Turks want to maintain the ceasefire indefinitely but Syrian plans to resume its offensive by the end of 2020

June 8, 2020: In the north (Idlib province) Islamic terrorists organized an offensive against Syrian positions. The attack briefly succeeded and several Syrian bunkers were taken. But reinforcements forced the Islamic terrorists back. There were over a hundred Islamic terrorists and Syrian dead and wounded. The Syrians troops are preparing for another offensive, despite Turkish threats to take action to halt Syrian operations in Idlib.

June 7, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) another Israeli airstrike damaged an Iran base and killed at least twelve Iranian mercenaries while also destroying a lot of explosive material (rockets and ammo).

June 6, 2020: In the south (Daraa province) Hezbollah forces are causing problems by protecting Lebanese drug smugglers who are moving their product from Lebanon, through Syria and to the Jordan border where Syrian border forces have been bribed or intimidated to allow the smugglers to cross into Jordan via areas where Jordanian border security is thin. Eventually, Jordan finds out where all these new drug supplies are coming from and blame Syria and Hezbollah for making it possible.

June 4, 2020: In the west (Hama province) Israel launched another airstrike against a Syrian military base and destroyed several buildings, killing 18 people, including nine Iranian mercenaries that were also operating from the base. Syria claimed the air defense systems at the base shot something down but there was no evidence of that. Earlier attacks at this base had killed Iranian and other “foreign technical experts” from North Koreans and Russia. The base currently contains a workshop for assembling long-range rockets and installing satellite guidance systems.

In the east (Deir Ezzor province) the U.S. supported SDF (Syrian Kurds) launched a week-long operation to eliminate known or suspected ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions operating near the Iraqi border and in the Badia desert. This has become a favorite operating area for ISIL the main road from western Syria goes through this desert on its way to Deir Ezzor province and the Iraq border. ISIL uses the road for smuggling people and supplies and wants to prevent others from doing the same. The SDF has assembled a force of 6,000 fighters, many of them tribesmen from the area that have been calling for a major crackdown on ISIL in Deir Ezzor. The tribes are under growing pressure, and attack, by ISIL. The Islamic terrorists want the tribes to cooperate and often use murder and kidnapping compel compliance. The Iraqi Army is participating in the campaign as is the United States with air and intelligence support. Several other NATO countries work with the Americans on these efforts to eliminate these ISIL remnants.

Since March, when covid19 first became widely known in Syria, military operations slowed down throughout the country. By the end of April, casualties were down to about a third of what they had been in March. Even ISIL was less active, but that meant more threats than actual violence. By early June there was more activity and the SDF saw this as an opportunity to hit ISIL before the terrorism returned to earlier levels.

The covid19 virus has also hit Syria, at least urban areas the Assads control. This includes Damascus, Aleppo and major ports and towns in the west. No official data has been released but unofficial source (phone calls, Internet chatter), indicates that economic activity has been reduced and thousands are ill. Most Syrians consider covid19 no worse than the annual influenza outbreak.

Iran is apparently the source of most covid19 (coronavirus) infections in Syria, where the government has only confirmed 152 people infected and six covid19 deaths. This comes out to nine cases per million population and 0.3 deaths per million. The deaths per million is double the global average of 54. While most other nations are now experiencing a reduction in covid19 deaths, the opposite is true for Iran, which is considered the epicenter of covid19 infections in the region and the source of infection for most of its neighbors. Currently, Iran has 2,120 confirmed cases and 101 deaths per million people, Turkey has 2,053 and 56, Jordan is 85 and o.9. Iraq is 384 and 11. Pakistan is 52 and 11. Gulf Saudi Arabia has 3,228 and 24 while the UAE is 4,098 and 29 per million.

June 3, 2020: In the north (Idlib province) a roadside bomb on the M4 highway was used against a Turkish military ambulance, leaving one Turkish soldier dead and two wounded.

June 2, 2020: In the east (Hasaka province) a Russian convoy was stopped by an American checkpoint and turned away. The road led to a Kurdish border town of Derik and the Americans believed the Russians intended to establish a base there. This is the sixth time so far this year that American troops have blocked Russian efforts to move into Kurdish controlled parts of Hasaka and Deir Ezzor provinces. The Russians are having more success with their joint patrols with Turkish troops in Idlib province, to prevent fighting between Islamic terrorist forces and Turkish or Syrian forces.

May 31, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, possibly Israeli, hit a convoy of armed men near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Three vehicles were damaged and five Iranian mercenaries were killed.

May 25, 2020: In the north (Idlib province) a roadside bomb on the M4 highway was used against a Turkish military vehicle, leaving one Turkish soldier dead and another wounded.

May 23, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) three Iranian IRGC men died when their vehicle exploded on a road. No one witnessed the explosion and an examination of the wreckage indicated that the vehicle was hit by a missile, not a roadside bomb. Israel is the likely attacker as the Israelis have been using UAVs over Syria more frequently.

May 17, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) a joint SDF and Syrian army operation to shut down local ISIL activity encountered two local ISIL leaders in different incidents. In one case the ISIL leader killed himself using an explosive vest while in the second case the ISIL leader fired on the Syrian troops and Kurdish militia but was soon shot dead. ISIL is still active in rural areas of eastern Syria and northern Iraq (between Baghdad and the Kurdish controlled provinces. At this point ISIL is mainly interested in rebuilding and preparing for another major terror campaign. The Americans use their intel from aerial surveillance and electronic eavesdropping plus what the SDF and Syrian forces pick up from their sources to get a good idea of where the ISIL hideouts are and some of those hideouts are used by ISIL members and not just as a secret storage site for weapons and supplies. This multiday operation found a lot of those hideouts and several ISIL members. Catching the two veteran leaders was a bonus because men like that are much harder to replace.

May 16, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) another Israeli airstrike hit the Iranian weapons storage near the Al Bukamal crossing with Iraq. There were several large explosions, not all of them missile warheads. At least seven Iranians (or Iranian mercenaries) were killed.

 

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